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The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Humpty Dumpty Comes to Town

Jeff Cumberbatch - New Chairman of the FTC

Jeff Cumberbatch – New Chairman of the FTC

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’ “, Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t -till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you’!”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’ “, Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean –neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -that’s all.”

Alice was much too puzzled to say anything… Through the Looking Glass… -Lewis Carroll (1871)

Language, especially the English language, is notoriously imprecise. And, therefore, it is highly likely to confuse, bemuse and sometimes amuse when employed in its principal function -that of communication. This need for clarity might partly explain why lawyers and scriveners of old were much given to the use of the doublet expression (or the pleonasm as they are sometimes pejoratively called nowadays). These are phrases such as “to have and to hold”, “cease and desist”, “let or hindrance”, “aid and abet” and “null and void”.

A more mercenary and hence more popular explanation though is that since lawyers were then remunerated according to the number of words in a drafted document, the legal doublet became de rigueur in order for the attorney to earn a sizeable fee.

Of course, the relatively recent thrust towards the “plain English” mode of drafting legal documents has now rendered this style largely superfluous (no pun) and, too besides, the degree of difficulty in draftsmanship of the document has significantly replaced the number of words in it as the principal tariff of the attorney’s fee.

Even with plain English however, imprecision persists and the hoary principles of the interpretation of deeds and statutes yet maintain contemporary relevance. Imagine then, the bedlam that may ensue in lay communication when a speaker or writer attempts to convey information to the public. And add to that the Barbadian context whereby the identities of the speaker (especially if a politician) and of the reader or listener assume major relevance. More so, where the topic is one as sensitive as race relations or of what should be considered preservable local heritage; two matters that are swiftly becoming indistinguishable here.

In parenthesis, it should be recalled that Barbadians are rather ambivalent about communication. While English is the official lingua franca, and the use of more popularly spoken dialect is frowned on at times by some, it is nevertheless seemingly accepted in the media so long as there is a perception that the writer or speaker is, I suppose, otherwise proficient in the use of Standard English and simply being light-hearted or engaging in mimicry on the occasion.

For those of us writing in Standard English however, we are often enjoined to write for “the common man”, a fiat that entails using a range of words and expressions that should be familiar to the average third form student at secondary school. Thus, any usage that may not be grasped without using a dictionary (!) is considered as gratuitous ostentation or “showing off” by the author, although to be fair, there are some who have remarked favourably on the periodic additions to their vocabulary.

Both of the phenomena referred to two paragraphs earlier have entered the public domain in recent weeks. First, Mr Ralph “Bizzy” Williams, a lighter-coloured national, took umbrage at the Prime Minister’s public reference to Barbados as being the “freest black nation in the world”. Second, the historian, Mr Trevor Marshall, is reported as having expressed displeasure at an official reference to the late and eccentric public character “King Dyal” (aka “Hog Food” in my youth) as a “leading cricketing icon” and a “legend in his own right”.

With regard to the first issue, Mr Williams’s objection appears to be primarily based on the fact that it is a misnomer to describe Barbados as a “black” nation, given the presence and contribution of many whitish Barbadians over the years. I read a later clarification where he would have preferred a description of modern Barbados as “multi-racial”.

On the simplistic point of the various races present in the nation, Mr Williams is of course right, although I do not think that the Prime Minister was making a racial reference, erroneous or at all, by his description. In any event, it does seem particularly useless nowadays to refer to a country by reference to the races of its citizens. Indeed, given the incidence of forced and voluntary migration, there are currently very few nation states that may not be referred to as “multi-racial” by Mr Williams’s token.

However, while I thought that the Prime Minister’s statement was merely a harmless repetition of one of those idle jingoistic boasts that that we so much adore in this region –“a nation that punches above its weight” and “ the best beaches in the world” come readily to mind-, the geopolitical reality is that for those few individuals who may still want to describe a nation by reference to a colour, the principal cosmetic indicators are the race of the overwhelming majority of its citizens and the colour of those who hold economic and legislative power. An examination of apartheid South Africa provides a clear example; the majority race was African, although Whites controlled the laws and the chief economic indicators. How should one describe South Africa then? And now? How should the US or UK be described today ? Are we really a “monarchy”? A “Christian” society?

It is indeed remarkable that none chose rather to challenge the accuracy of Mr Stuart’s superlative.

Mr Trevor Marshall’s objection does carry some weight at first blush. To my mind, to describe King Dyal as “a leading cricket icon” oversteps hyperbole and “legend” [except perhaps in his own mind] is clearly a stretch. I have not seen the calendar to which Trevor refers, but his objection, from the press report, appears to be based on the odium that the late character displayed towards black people. If true, perhaps this is more to be pitied than anything else. My support for the assertion is based rather on the fact that the self-styled “King” was merely another local character, no more memorable for all that than “Gear Box”, “Bulldog” or “Town Man” and “Town Woman”, for examples.

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161 Comments on “The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Humpty Dumpty Comes to Town”

  1. David January 26, 2016 at 6:55 PM #

    Barbados: King Dyal – the activist remembered

    From the Barbados Advocate . . .

    “You don’t know I was the man responsible for the riots? The 1937 riots, I was solely responsible for it,” said Redvers Dundonald ‘King’ Dyal.

    Many know of his colourful suits and air of supremacy but few know of the role that King Dyal played in bringing about social change in Barbados.

    From research, it was found that on numerous occasions King Dyal told his story of how he educated the masses, empowering them with his speech, propelling them to act to facilitate a change in the segregated and oppressed Barbados.

    King Dyal said he was approached and invited to be a platform speaker along with persons like Clement Payne during the period of unrest. He said in a recorded interview, “The title of the speech was ‘Love ye one another’. The only thing Black people have never done is like one another. That is the failure of Blacks. They do not like themselves.”

    So he spoke motivational words to the vast crowd of persons gathered at Tweedside Road, the Thursday night before the riots commenced.

    He said, “They heard I was the speaker and they came to hear me speak. And I said there is no other God but the God of love that exists within the hearts of mankind. I also said that if a man loves God and does not live to the standard of what He says there is no God in his living.

    “When the thing came to a real point, all the papers said that I had preached sedition and that I had said there is no God. I had 17 charges against me. More than all the other politicians who spoke at the various meetings.”

    A few nights after his speech had created a buzz, King Dyal said that he had to address a crowd of anxious listeners at Lower Green apologetically saying, “I have been instructed by the Inspector General of Police not to speak at tonight’s meeting. […] That angered the crowd and the crowd of a few hundred left the meeting and went up the Wharf, down the Pierhead, straight up Bay Street where it was alleged that the Government had Clement Payne.”

    Dyal was not pro Black he admitted, rather he asserted, “I was just black and had a liking for both Black and White.”

    Many may not believe or have ever found a way to justify and credit Dyal with his believed significant role in bringing about change but he never held any expectations of the Barbadian society. The misunderstood man, understood the people.

    “The Black people won’t do nothing for me. If people don’t like you, they don’t like you,” said King Dyal, one of the most colourful characters in Barbados’ history and possibly an activist of greatest significance.

    For the original report go to http://www.barbadosadvocate.com/newsitem.asp?more=local&NewsID=22311

    Painting of King Dyal by Aubrey Cummings fromhttp://www.barbadosartscouncil.com/page6.htm

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  2. Donna January 26, 2016 at 6:56 PM #

    Smoking Joe and Joel Garner etc. etc. etc.

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  3. Donna January 26, 2016 at 6:58 PM #

    I repeat,” Do you believe EVERYTHING you read and hear? “King Dyall said……”

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  4. Donna January 26, 2016 at 7:01 PM #

    ” I was solely responsible for the riots.”

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  5. Vincent Haynes January 26, 2016 at 7:01 PM #

    David

    Thanks for putting the issue in perspective…..he was a man of his times,just as EWB was.

    Like

  6. David January 26, 2016 at 7:01 PM #

    @Donna

    Relax!

    We are discussion King Dyal and all BU has done is to pull info on the Internet to BU for others to read and form opinions.

    Relax!

    Like

  7. are-we-there-yet January 26, 2016 at 7:54 PM #

    David;

    Thanks for the archival information on KIng Dyal that you posted.

    I, for one did not know, that He played a role (a speaking one, no less) in the Clement Payne riots of 1937.

    I wonder how many of the posters on this topic knew that. I wonder if our eminent Historian knew it.

    But then Donna might be right in considering that episode ( that was corroborated in one of your extracts) as a figment of a fertile imagination.

    Anyone out there can authoritatively confirm that King Dyal was or was not involved in the Riots and indeed jailed as one article claims?

    Any historians out there who could research it and let us know the truth? Sir Hilary and several other Historians researched that event and there should be some one out there who could point us in the right direction.

    If King Dyal was indeed involved in the riots as he and the other article you posted claimed it suggests that someone did not do his research properly.

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  8. Donna January 27, 2016 at 9:05 AM #

    I wasn’t born but me grandpa told me how we had riots here in this country. My grandpa, a born rebel, an avid cricket fan, a very active supporter of Grantley Adams, and an enthralling storyteller told me stories of Wynter Crawford, D.D. Garner and many other memorable political figures and events including a particularly intriguing account of the uprising and the events leading up to it. Never once did he mention a word about King Dyal. This is a relatively recent occurrence. Evidence should not have been too hard to find.

    At any rate, what would have changed him from a trail-blaizing activist for the poor and downtrodden blacks to a hater of all things black? Ingratitude from those he helped? Well in that case my same grandfather could have been excused for being a black hater. But you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and do it all over again because good or bad they are YOUR PEOPLE!

    Like

  9. Donna January 27, 2016 at 9:35 AM #

    David,

    It was the timing of your posts directly after mine, I guess. Relaxing………

    Like

  10. Vincent Haynes January 27, 2016 at 9:35 AM #

    are-we-there-yet January 26, 2016 at 7:54 PM #

    Our problem lies with Historians as we have a hero created from a sentence with all sorts of attributes that cannot be verified.

    We must do our own research.

    Like

  11. are-we-there-yet January 28, 2016 at 6:47 PM #

    Vincent Haynes;

    If I can find some time, I might just do my own research.

    Like

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